While Renault’s mildly outrageous open-sided urban runabout, the Twizy, stands out as the head-turning attention-grabber of the firm’s bold new ZE range of electric vehicles, it’s the decidedly more conventional looking Renault Zoe that’s expected to spearhead sales.
We’ll have to wait a little longer yet, however, for a drive in a production ready car. In the meantime, this preview version, imaginatively titled Zoe Preview (the very same concept car that was shown at the 2010 Paris motor show), claimed to be 90 per cent finished, will necessarily suffice.
Without proper firewall soundproofing, this pre-production Zoe is uncharacteristically noisy for an electric car on the road. That 90 per cent figure clearly relates to the car’s styling, then, rather than the actual engineering underpinning the Clio-sized Renault. The whining noise from the front-mounted motor and the direct drive reducer transmission is ever present, and it manages to grow in intensity as the speed rises.
Even as a prototype, however, the performance on offer feels brisk enough, and the regenerative energy recovery effect when lifting off is smooth rather than severe. Renault quotes an 8.1sec 0-62mph time and top speed of 84mph. Plenty for those Parisian side streets, and the potential range of 100 miles is also unlikely to be too little for its intended urban role.
The steering, unassisted on the Preview concept, will be electric on the final production car, although despite its heft it’s accurate on the move. The suspension is more or less nonexistent, with the Zoe Preview feeling busy on Tarmac that wouldn’t even trouble the Renaultsport Mégane Cup.
The production car will ride more sweetly, we’re assured, with it expected to feature Clio-derived MacPherson-type front suspension and a torsion beam, coil-sprung rear set-up. Hard semi-slick hand-cut Michelin show-car tyres don’t help the ride, either. The tyre firm has used specific production rubber with the emphasis on providing low rolling resistance for maximum economy.
Renault’s first fully developed electric-only platform will underpin the Zoe. The French firm claims the platform is exclusively for its own use. The batteries come from a joint Nissan-Renault programme though, and thanks to that EV-specific platform they are positioned as low down in the car as is possible.
That ideal weight distribution should help the production Zoe ride and handle better than this skittish show car. Input on the dynamics from Renaultsport is possible, indeed, it hasn’t been ruled out that an entire Renaultsport version of the Zoe will appear, with Renault’s more focused sporting wing playing a key role in the development of the Zoe’s Twizy sister vehicle.
Understandably, the production car will lose this Preview’s more avant-garde interior styling and gain a simple bench seat in the rear, but the digital displays will remain, with the bold central screen containing all the information regarding the condition of the battery. Renault admits too that despite the low current draw of the show car’s LED lights the production car will feature conventional headlamps. Likewise, the glass roof will go, as to retain it would only cause additional energy pull to control the climate inside.
Cut through the show-car glitz if you can and the Zoe’s conventionality is its biggest draw. Back that with good looks and the promise of an enjoyable drive and it could change the way we look at and use our superminis. It’ll be priced conventionally, too. A new electric world, then, and one which you won’t need to be too brave to take the plunge into.